“Excuse me, Ma’am, can you help me?” Errol asked the woman wearing a green vest, indicating she was an employee at Spinney’s Gardens. Minutes ago, he had approached two different men asking for help, who were quick to tell him that they did not work there. He was still flushed in mortification from the awkward interactions.
The woman turned from watering purple flowers with a hose and faced Errol, a bead of sweat trickling down her cheek. “Yes, sir?” she asked, wiping her forehead with the back of her gloved hand. Errol could smell the scent of the flowers evaporate from the water into the sunlight. He wondered what kind they were. He wished he could afford to buy some for Nina.
“I’d like to buy a house plant,” Errol said pointing to the various plants displayed on the cart in front of him, “But I don’t know which one to get.” He scratched his head, overwhelmed with the choices on the cart. There were big ones, small ones, twisty ones, frilly ones, waxy ones… How does one choose a house plant for oneself?
The woman placed the hose down and took off her gloves, placing them carefully in the black apron tied around her waist. “What are you looking for? Do you have any other plants in your house?” she asked, eyeing up Errol from top to bottom as a doctor would do at an initial visit with a patient.
“Get a plant,” his sponsor, Damien, had instructed him a few days ago when Errol informed Damien he wanted to ask out Nina from the Friday night meeting.
House plant? Errol had questioned Damien, “No, I want to ask out Nina. I don’t want a house plant.”
“If you can keep a plant alive for one year, you can ask out Nina,” Damien instructed him, “You barely have two months. Slow your roll.”
Feeling the woman’s eyes on him, Errol automatically looked at his feet, his social anxiety beginning to build up inside of him. He didn’t like being questioned and he didn’t like being in public. At least, not without a drink. He wished he could just grab a plant and leave without having to communicate with anyone. But he didn’t want to mess this up.
“No other plants. Just me,” he said as he pretended to inspect a pointy plant in front of him, avoiding eye contact at any cost.
“Okay…” the woman hesitated, wanting to see if Errol would elaborate. “Do you get much sunlight in your house?”
Errol shrugged. He’d never really noticed how much sunlight he got in his apartment. He’d been too drunk to notice, if he were honest with himself.
“You pick whatever you think,” he said. He wanted to leave immediately. He hated making decisions. His decisions never turned out right.
The woman bent down and picked up a large plant in a white pot. “These are the trendiest houseplants right now. Fiddle Leaf Figs. Do you have a large window, but not where the sun’s rays will fall directly on the leaves? An east-facing window?”
Errol raised his eyebrows, “Um, sure, I think it’s east-facing,” he lied. He had no idea which way his apartment faced, or any window faced for that matter, but he didn’t want this woman to think he couldn’t care for this plant. If this is the most popular plant that people are getting, why can’t I care for it too?
“Great,” the woman continued, “You’ll want to water it the same amount each week. For this size, water one cup each week. Once it grows more than two feet tall, water two cups each week. Once it grows to be three to six feet tall, use three cups of water. Never let your plant sit in water, and make sure your container fully drains each time you water.”
“Uh, huh,” Errol pretended that he could remember everything she said about watering the plant. Even my childhood goldfish seemed easier to feed than this. Just a pinch of food every day. No measuring anything out.
“You’re also going to need to prune it regularly to maintain its health. Make sure to use clean, sharp shears to prevent spreading infection and be sure to wear gloves, because the sap can irritate your skin. You may also want to put down a tarp or towels, so the sap doesn’t damage your floor. Do you have wood floors?”
“Wood? Um...I don’t know…” Errol muttered, suddenly completely unaware of the type of flooring he had in his apartment. Was it wood? Carpet? Vinyl?
“Be careful not to remove more than 10% of the leaves at once to avoid sending your tree into shock,” the woman continued.
“Shock?” Errol asked in bewilderment. What kind of Little Shop of Horrors plant is this?
“Yes, you don’t want to over prune,” she directed, holding up the plant closer to Errol.
“Okay…thanks,” he said sluggishly taking the plant from her and holding it in front of him as if it was a newborn with a dirty diaper.
“Any other questions?” she asked, putting her gloves back on and picking up her hose.
Dumbstruck, Errol stared at her, not sure what questions he DIDN’T have, but not wishing this conversation to go on any longer. “No…” he said as he watched her press the lever on the hose and continue to water the purple flowers in front of her, suddenly, not as pretty as they were a few minutes ago.
“Great, good luck!” she shouted over the spraying water.
Errol slowly turned, arms out, holding onto the Fiddle Leaf Fig tightly, trying not to drop his new responsibility.
“Fiddle Leaf Fig…” he whispered to himself as he walked towards the cashier, “What kind of person gets one of these stupid things by choice?”
He had sudden memory of health class his senior year of high school. As their final assignment, the students dressed up a bag of flour in baby clothes and had to care for the bags to see what “real parenting” was like. Errol had put his bag of flour on the back of his dirt bike on the second day and it fell off and burst open. A foreshadowing for my life now; the first of most relationships I’ve ruined.
He walked through the long aisle of flowers and approached the cashier, watching as he rang up a gentleman buying bags of mulch. Errol looked down at the large plant in his hands, its waxy leaves glistening in the light. He glared at it in resentment. An indignant father holding the infant that was preventing him and mommy’s intimacy.
“Can I help you, sir?” the cashier asked from behind the register.
Errol looked up and approached him, holding the plant awkwardly between arms now shaky from the heavy weight. As he placed the plant down and took out his wallet, his eye caught a display of small, hand sized cacti for sale, five dollars each. Errol picked one up and studied it. A green sphere with little spikes. Simple. Easy.
“It’s not easy, but it’s simple,” Damien had told him a few months ago.
“Actually,” Errol said before the cashier scanned the tag on the Fig. “I’ll get this instead.” He pushed the fig to the side and slid the small cactus in front of him.
Damien never told him what kind of plant he needed to keep alive for a year. Why not set himself up for success rather than failure this time? Progress not perfection.
He walked out of Spinney’s Garden, Cactus in hand with a smile on his face. He’d picked the perfect plant out and felt like this was one thing he could do right without messing up. One day at a time.